1. What has been the most pleasant surprise this year?
That despite how we all feel right now in Blacksburg, this apparently is NOT the beginning of nuclear apocalypse. Whew, the JMU loss had me worried for a minute.
2. What has been the biggest disappointment so far?
Well obviously the loss to JMU will never go away. JMU fans have been classy about it, but I have to say that they treat it like they have historically dominated us and the ones doing that are bandwagon clingers and can't be old enough to remember the past. I mean it's not like it didn't happen. It did. But many JMU fans don't remember the the 49-0 and 43-0 drubbings in the last two games they played against the Hokies.
Otherwise, on the field stuff...our offense. Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson, our three-headed tailback monster that now looks as harmless as three Gremlins before you feed them after midnight. For that, I point the finger at two things: Our porous offensive line and our terrible offensive coordinator. Our offense which is supposed to be LOADED with talent (and it is) has not put up the kind of yardage or points we all foresaw in the preseason. All of us Hokie fans kind of joked "Stinespring can't even screw this one up." But the man, the myth, the legend that is Bryan Stinespring has managed to do just that. We are averaging less yards and points than a year ago while we return every major skill position player plus a former 1,000 yard rusher from injury, and have 3 backs who could legitimately start at any school in the nation not named Alabama.
Case and point of our offensive woes: Even in our 19-0 defeat of Boston College over the weekend we amassed only 343 yards. Compare that to earlier in the year when BC played FCS Weber State and you'll see that the ___________'s (I don't know Weber State's mascot, so that's a sign. Fill it in in the comment section if you know) gained 381 yards against the vaunted BC D. I'm not saying it couldn't be a fluke, but if our offense sputters to the tune of that yardage and that point total with only one touchdown and doing it week after week, well we're the ones who aren't doing ourselves any favors on offense...and the finger will continue to point at the incredibly unimaginative Bryan Stinespring.
3. What are the biggest areas of improvement needed right now?
Offensive line. No doubt. Although the aforementioned grilling of Stinespring was warranted, the OL has not been doing him or anyone else on this team any favors. It's a classic Tech O-line who returns 3 quality starters and inexplicably they come back a year later as if they had played well last year because of some freak accident. If this stable of backs can't go for 250 a game no matter what the playcall, these guys don't deserve to be called offensive linemen. They're just impersonating.
4. Which players are quietly playing really well so far this year?
Bruce Taylor. Some people grilled him early on for missed tackles, and true, he did miss his share. But he also leads the team in tackles, and is one of the team's best leaders out there, despite having literally no PT before the Boise game. It has to be hard to have two game-altering calls go against you in your first two games as a starter, especially since neither was the right call. You have to feel like you can't do anything right at that point. But to his credit, Taylor took it all in stride and is now playing like a man on fire. It's to the point where there might be a controversy over who to start when incumbent Barquell Rivers returns.
Also Steven Friday's torrid play continues as he has registered four sacks in four games. His play has helped to solidify a defensive line unit which was one of the big question marks heading into the season. Through four games, Friday has recorded four sacks and has been a constant presence in the backfield.
5. What are the major question marks headed into this weeks game?
Can the defense put a full 60 minutes together? The 19-0 victory over BC last week was a deceiving margin. The Eagles left at least 17 points on the board against the Hokies, missing a very makeable field goal, throwing an interception in the red zone and poor clock management at half. Although at times they looked the dominant force that a Bud Foster D should look, they have yet to look that way for 60 minutes, much less a full quarter. Our linebackers (particularly Jeron Gouveia-Winslow) keep getting lost in coverage, and are biting on the play-fake at a staggering rate.
I only say the defense is the question mark because they hold the key to the game. I don't see the offense inexplicably exploding against the Wolfpack, even with the possibility of an infusion via Ryan Williams return. The offense is what it is, and after a full four weeks, this is probably a very close representation of our 2010 offense's form. With that being said, the defense limiting the opponent's scoring is the key...just like classic Tech football, an offense relying on a defense to keep them in games. The only thing is, it was supposed to be the other way around this year!
6. What needs to happen in order to secure a victory in this weeks game?
With a team like NC State and a guy like Russell Wilson at the helm this week, it will be key to keep him from making plays, both with his arm and with his feet. He is a freak athlete (evidenced by being picked in the MLB draft, but choosing to stay in college). He is an extremely efficient QB who is on another 100+ passes without an interception streak. His last one was last year against the Hokies after going over 300 passes without a pick. Much like Tyrod Taylor he keeps plays alive, but much differently than Taylor (although Taylor of late has done this a lot more) his eyes are ALWAYS downfield.
I watched last week while Wilson torched the Georgia Tech defense. It was scary. But, our defense, even in its youth is better than the Jackets D. So while I don't expect a free-for-all out there, it is paramount that our D keep Wilson under 250 total yards. If we do that, I like our chances. If not, it's anyone's game.
I know that our offense has to improve before we start beating teams like NC State on the road, but short of a miracle or Michael Vick regaining his eligibility to come back and suit up, our D is going to have to answer the call.